My mum has been living with us for a few weeks now. It’s nice to have her around, it’s nice to have always lunch and dinner ready on the table (I bet it’s a nice change for Alex), and it’s nice that Oliver and Emily get to know their grandma. But it’s also hard to have her “watch” our life 24/7. Especially because with the watching, more often than not, comes the advice—it’s simply natural and we know she means well.
“You should put Emily to sleep in her cot during the day. She’ll get used to sleeping on you and it’ll create a difficult attachment problem”.
“You shouldn’t always comfort Oliver, he needs to learn to live his sadness on his own. The world is tough out there, and you won’t always be there for him”.
“You shouldn’t always pick Emily up when she cries. It’s good for them to just cry sometimes”.
“You overstimulate Oliver all day long. He cooks with you, he cleans with you, he’s got so many activities… I’m not sure that’s good for him”.
If Emily were my first baby, I’d surely be torn between what I feel is right and what my mother advices me to do. But after these last two years of motherhood, I realised something important: I’m a confident mother, and I know my children better than anyone.
So if on one hand, it’s interesting to hear what she thinks based on her own experience of 30 years (which I, of course, value and appreciate), on the other hand it’s very clear to me that I’m a very different mother from her (from any other mother, actually), and that my confidence comes from living by one main rule: follow the child.
If I always comfort Oliver is because he needs me to, and he responds best when I do. He’s a highly sensitive child—which doesn’t only mean he’s sensitive the way you and me know sensitivity, it comes with a whole package of personality traits that I didn’t know before reading The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron (I’m preparing a blog post about it).
AND he’s two. And if on one hand it means that he’s in the best, most receptive sensorial time of his life, and he needs as many stimuli as we can offer, on the other hand, he’s ONLY two: he’ll have a lifetime to see how tough the world is out there. Now all he needs to know and feel is that I am ALWAYS there for him and understand him, when he cries, when he moans for what seem silly to me, when he’s too tired to “behave”.
In the same way, there are many reasons why I let Emily sleep on me, but most importantly because I follow her. I believe in love, contact and holding, I don’t believe that babies “get used to being held”—I think it’s one of those preconceptions of the old way of motherhood that new generations of parents should get rid of. For me, it’s quite simple: Emily needs to sleep, I try to put her down in her cot, she wakes up and cries, I pick her up and let her sleep on me. I follow her. I do it because I can, because my work situation allows me to, because I’m not afraid of her “getting used” to it, but most importantly because I believe it’s the best way of parenting. Would I love to be able to put her down and clean/work/rest? Sure. And eventually I will.
And one more thing—and this is something that since Oliver started his “daddy phase” makes me very emotional. Emily is likely to be my last baby, and although I’m set on my preference of not having more children, it’s a painful decision for me: nobody will ever again need me as much as she needs me right now; nobody will ever again want to be with me as much as she does right now; nobody will ever again find true comfort ONLY in my arms. And the fact that these are selfish reasons doesn’t make them less true: Oliver is just two, and he already refuses my kisses and hugs if he doesn’t feel like cuddling; he prefers his daddy to fall asleep at night; he says “no mamma” when I try to help him do something he knows how to do. He’s not my baby anymore, and if time keeps flying by so quickly, tomorrow he’ll move out and start his own family.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, when I look at my children, I don’t see only babies who need to be put down or fed or bathed or rocked; I don’t see challenges I need to overcome in a specific timeframe (like having Emily sleep in her cot during the day, or Oliver learn to master his emotions on his own).
I see tiny, whole people I’m building a relationship with, people I want to spend as much time as possible with, people I want to get to know in all their beautiful complexity.
And today it’s pretty clear to me thay the only way I can do that is MY WAY, my being a mother, with my values, my principles, my beliefs, my faults, my mistakes, but above all, my love and understanding.
That’s why I follow my children, and don’t try to have them follow me: THEY teach ME every day how to be a parent, and in the process, they make me a better, more confident mother and person.